ADA filing mills: “drive-by lawsuits”

AP reports on the thriving business of mass-complaint-filing under the Americans with Disabilities Act, citing examples from Nebraska and Oklahoma as well as more familiar filing-mill locales such as California and Florida. As in the recent California case, however (Jan. 8), some judges are not pleased at what they see:

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell of Orlando, Fla., noted in a ruling last year that Jorge Luis Rodriguez, a paraplegic, had filed some 200 ADA lawsuits in just a few years, most of them using the same attorney.

“The current ADA lawsuit binge is, therefore, essentially driven by economics — that is the economics of attorney’s fees,” Presnell wrote. He said Rodriguez’s testimony left the impression that he is a “professional pawn in a scheme to bilk attorney’s fees” from those being sued.

(Kevin O’Hanlon, “‘Drive-By Lawsuits’ Raise Business Concern”, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 17).

Speaking of the California saga of Jarek Molski (Sept. 21, Nov. 27, Dec. 12, Jan. 8), last month U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie extended from Molski to his lawyer, Thomas Frankovich, a requirement to obtain court permission before filing more suits under the act, a sanction ordinarily reserved for the most vexatious and troublesome litigants. Reports the Los Angeles Daily Journal:

The Los Angeles judge accused Molski and Frankovich of seeking quick cash settlements by filing a suspicious number of lawsuits in short periods of time. Their suits alleged handicap-access violations such as steep ramps, heavy doors and narrow hallways.

Rafeedie noted that the complaints are identical, right “down to the typos.” He said he believed the injuries alleged by Molski “are often contrived.”…

Rafeedie criticized at length Frankovich’s practice of sending letters to defendant business owners at the outset of litigation, urging them to settle the cases before hiring defense lawyers.

According to Rafeedie, Frankovich told the defendants that they did not have good legal defenses to the disability claims and that their insurance carriers could cover any damages.

Rafeedie said the letters were unethical and misleading.

However, Molski and Frankovich’s side of the case has retained prominent civil-rights attorney Stephen Yagman, and Yagman says well-known Duke lawprof Erwin Chemerinsky is also joining the plaintiff’s team, so who knows where matters are headed next. (John Ryan, “Jurist Finds Lawyer’s Conduct ‘Plainly Unethical'”, Los Angeles Daily Journal, Feb. 8, not online). More: blogger Patterico is among Yagman’s non-admirers (Jun. 3, 2004).

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